Treatment for Alcohol Addiction
Medically Reviewed by Dr. Francine Mends, MD on August 4, 2020
Are you considering going to rehab to address your alcohol addiction? You’re not alone, and you’re making the right choice.
Alcohol was included in 41% of all substance abuse treatment admissions in a report by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. That’s more than all other substances put together.
Despite that, only 11% of people who needed addiction treatment received it.
Alcohol addiction treatment works. If you’re thinking about going to rehab, then you’re on the right path. In fact, evidence-based treatment cuts the odds of relapse by up to 50%.
You have options and choices when it comes to treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD). Your options include:
- Inpatient programs that offer round-the-clock care, support, and structure
- Outpatient programs that give you the flexibility to recover while taking care of responsibilities
- Medication-assisted treatment that can control cravings, lessen withdrawal, and deter you from drinking
- Behavioral treatment that helps you understand and have more control over the way you behave around alcohol
Recovery education and aftercare are important parts of your rehab experience too. Your treatment program will prepare you for living in the real world without relapsing. You’ll learn new self-care skills and coping mechanisms, and pick up support tools along the way.
Anyone who’s living with AUD can benefit from alcohol addiction treatment. Here’s what you should know about your treatment options:
Inpatient Treatment for Alcohol Addiction
Many people who have an alcohol addiction have a history of relapsing. It can be hard to stay in recovery when you don’t have the foundation in place.
Inpatient treatment gives you the foundation you need for a recovery that lasts.
These programs are so effective because:
- They give you an intensive treatment experience with plenty of programming to make the most out of your time there
- They remove you from your environment, which means removing you from triggers and temptations
- They provide a recovery-focused safe place where you can be vulnerable and supported while you progress into recovery
- You have access to a dedicated care team who knows your history and can help you make the right treatment and recovery choices
Long- and Short-Term Inpatient Treatment
Long-term and short-term programs offer the same level of care. The main difference is that long-term programs usually last 3 months or longer, and short-term programs often last around 4 to 8 weeks.
These treatment programs offer top-level evidence-based care. You’ll spend lots of hours in recovery programming, which can include:
- Check-ins with your care team
- Counseling and therapy
- Educational sessions and workshops
- Group meetings
- Medication appointments
Many inpatient programs take place in hospitals or psychiatric facilities, which means quick access to medical care if you need it.
If you’re recovering from alcohol addiction, this extra care could be an important part of your recovery. Alcohol causes more long-term problems than many illicit drugs.
You should consider an inpatient program if you’re thinking about alcohol rehab. If possible, choose a long-term program. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) recommends 90 days of treatment as the minimum.
Residential treatment programs are a little less rigorous than other inpatient programs. They take place in a homelike environment instead of a hospital or facility. Many residential treatment facilities are packed with comfort and amenities.
These programs are still time-intensive, live-in programs. But instead of keeping your entire day packed with scheduled programming, you’ll have some choice and flexibility in how your days go.
You should still expect some scheduled and mandatory programs. Those might include:
- Appointments to receive medication, such as acamprosate or naltrexone
- Daily check-ins to assess your progress and discuss any questions you have
- Group programs, like discussion groups, support groups, 12 Step groups, or therapy groups
- Therapy and behavioral health services to address the root of your addiction and conquer it
You may have other mandatory commitments on the schedule too, e.g., communal meals or outings. But beyond that, there’s some room for you to choose recreational or spiritual activities that you enjoy. Or you may use some scheduled downtime to reflect in your room.
Outpatient Treatment for Alcohol Addiction
Outpatient treatment programs give you some flexibility in the way you get treatment.
These programs let you live at home and go to treatment part-time. They’re known for being very flexible in terms of time commitment: you can attend from 6 hours to 40 hours weekly, for weeks or months.
An outpatient treatment program will include scheduled time for:
- Appointments to receive medication and follow up on your progress
- Counseling and therapy to treat your mental health
- Drug tests to monitor your recovery progress
- Recovery education like workshops and groups
The length of treatment depends on your needs and history. You can find programs that range from 4 weeks to a year or longer. But NIDA says that 90 days is the recommended shortest length of treatment.
Many outpatient treatment programs are based in an office or clinic. These programs tend to give you the most control over the time you’re spending. If you only have time for one day a week, then there’s still an office-based program for you.
An office-based program may include:
- Medication that you receive at your appointments in the form of a tablet, dissolvable film, or injection
- Regular check-ins to assess your progress, including office visits and drug tests
- Therapy and counseling to help you treat your alcohol addiction at the source
There’s a lot of flexibility in office-based alcohol treatment. These outpatient programs can take up just a few hours of your week or several days. And you can attend for weeks, months, or even years! Many people choose to continue treatment as part of their long-term recovery strategy
Intensive outpatient (IOP) programs are a high-level treatment for alcohol addiction. IOP provides a step up from the in-office outpatient programs.
You can still live at home while getting treatment, but you’ll receive care for up to 5 days a week. In an IOP program, you might spend up to 30 hours weekly in recovery programming and therapy sessions.
You’ll receive services like:
- Educational sessions such as workshops and classes that teach you recovery skills and strategies
- Medication-assisted treatment that treats your cravings and deters you from relapsing
- Support groups for relapse prevention, skill-building, co-dependency support, and family support
- Therapy, including cognitive-behavioral therapy to help you learn the connections between your thoughts, your behavior, and your addiction
Most IOP programs will require regular drug testing. This might be random or scheduled. This isn’t to “catch” you relapsing, but to recognize if you need a different level of care. A relapse outside of IOP can mean you need partial hospitalization or inpatient treatment instead.
Partial hospitalization (PHP) offers the highest level of outpatient care. In a PHP program, you might spend up to 40 hours a week in treatment, or up to 7 days weekly.
Like their name says, PHP programs take place in a hospital. The benefits of that include:
- Access to medical care if you need it, which is common in post-alcohol withdrawal
- All-day treatment programs that are immersive and keep you focused on recovery
- Evidence-based medical treatment that’s tailored to your needs and history
PHP requires the same amount of time as a full-time job! Still, it’s worth the time commitment. Intensive treatment options like PHP are ideal for treating people with long-term alcohol addiction.
Medication-Assisted Treatment for Alcohol Addiction
Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is the use of medications to treat addiction. MAT is used alongside counseling, therapy, and other evidence-based treatments for the best results.
For alcohol addiction, the most common MAT drugs include naltrexone, acamprosate, and disulfiram.
Naltrexone is an opioid medication that treats AUD. When you use it as directed, naltrexone can reduce cravings for alcohol.
You shouldn’t use naltrexone if you use other opioid medications. Your doctor will have you start naltrexone once you no longer have alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
Acamprosate is a medication that reduces the effects of alcohol withdrawal. It’s also sold under the name Campral.
This medication works best if you’ve already finished withdrawing from alcohol. It also works better when you combine it with therapy.
Disulfiram is a medication that deters you from drinking alcohol. It does this by changing the way your body processes alcohol.
When you drink alcohol while using disulfiram, you’ll experience:
- Low blood pressure
- Nausea and vomiting
These effects are very unpleasant. For most people, drinking alcohol is not worth the reaction. Drinking heavy amounts of alcohol while on disulfiram can be life-threatening. You should never binge drink while using disulfiram.
Counseling and Therapy for Alcohol Addiction
Behavioral health treatments help you understand where your addiction comes from. When it’s used right, counseling and therapy can teach you valuable new ways to cope with alcohol addiction.
The most effective treatments for alcohol addiction include:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy: CBT can help you recognize thought patterns that are destructive. It also gives you the tools to replace those thoughts with better ones.
- Counseling: Everyone has life experiences and factors that affect their addiction. Counseling can help you unpack the reasons you abuse alcohol.
- Dialectical behavior therapy: Alcohol addiction can have you living in the past and dwelling on your problems. DBT teaches you to focus on the moment and choose healthy emotional coping methods.
- Group therapy: It can be deeply therapeutic to talk about your addiction around people who know what it’s like. Groups like Alcoholics Anonymous or 12 Steps can help you reconnect with others in a safe environment.
- Motivational interviewing: Sometimes treatment is harder than you thought it would be. You might have a hard time remembering why you wanted to get treatment. MI helps you focus on the reasons behind your recovery and stay motivated.
Many people who get treatment for alcohol addiction use multiple types of therapy. It’s not uncommon to attend CBT, individual counseling, and 12 Steps all on different days. This can help you benefit from different perspectives. Your care team will work with you to choose the types that are right for your background.
Aftercare for Alcohol Addiction
When you leave treatment for alcohol addiction, there’s still a lot of work in your future!
Aftercare is an important part of long-term recovery. Alcohol addiction is a lifelong condition that you’ll have to manage for the rest of your life. Your treatment team will help you create an aftercare plan that meets your recovery goals.
For instance, your aftercare plan may include:
- A contingency plan in case of relapse
- Long-term outpatient treatment
- Medication-assisted treatment
- New self-care routines and expectations
- Support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous
Does Alcohol Addiction Treatment Work?
Alcohol addiction treatment works. Getting treatment cuts your risk of relapse by as much as 50%.
Recovering alone, alcohol withdrawal is reason enough to make many people relapse. In treatment, you receive support through the withdrawal stage, but also into the first stages of recovery.
This added support is critical to your recovery. Many people relapse over and over again until they go to treatment. If you’ve been to treatment before, then it can still work for you again. Most people relapse several times before they find a treatment that works.
Who Needs Treatment for Alcohol Addiction?
If you have alcohol use disorder (AUD), then you need treatment.
AUD is notoriously hard to recover from cold turkey. When you stop drinking, alcohol withdrawal symptoms can leave you feeling so low that relapse feels like the only option.
Alcohol addiction treatment puts you in a safe environment from detox to aftercare. The support, medical care, and skills that you receive in treatment can mean the difference in your outcome.
You should seek treatment if you have any of these signs:
- An inability to stop using alcohol even when you recognize that you should stop
- Dependence on alcohol
- Drinking to start your day
- Drinking in the middle of the day
- Lying about your alcohol use
- Social, financial, and work problems due to alcohol
- Tolerance to alcohol
- Withdrawal when you stop using alcohol
Find Treatment for Alcohol Addiction
Search our treatment directory to find the right treatment program for you. We spotlight the best facilities for alcohol addiction treatment with evidence-based treatment and great amenities. Take the first step today and you could begin recovery tomorrow!
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